The Atlantic Ocean, Black ’47
The ship Sally Malone bucked and groaned and almost upended him. Shane MacDermott halted in his tracks for the fraction of a second it took to steady himself before he scurried down the crowded passageway.
“Easy there, laddie.” The gap-toothed old man reached out a bony hand to steady him. “These rough seas’ll knock ye off yer feet, sure as the devil.”
Intent on his mission, Shane nodded a brief thanks and hurried on, carefully picking his way through the narrow, crowded aisle, one skeletal arm cupped protectively around the dipperful of warm, brackish water.
“All this rolling and tossing does make walking terrible difficult,” another woman, one of the strange community that had sprung up in this miserable, stinking hole, commiserated.
Shane barely noticed, and didn’t speak. He had to bring the water for Da. Had to help Ma dribble the few drops through his parched lips, praying they might just break the terrible fever that held his father in its deathly grip.
His mother looked up at his approach, a smile lighting her haggard face. Shane looked at her closely and shook his head in sadness. She was that thin a gust of wind could blow her off the ship and away back to the Cove of Cork.
“Ah, my Shane, ‘tis a fine lad ye are.” Ma’s blue, blue eyes, the only bit of color in her pale face, glowed with love as she took the dipper from his trembling hands.
He reckoned they’d been on this dreadful ship for five torturous weeks. Shane collapsed on the narrow wooden bunk, too weary to notice the miasma of vomit, urine and unwashed bodies. His younger brother and baby sister stared vacantly at him.
He gazed into their gaunt faces. They’d left Ireland for a better life in America, but a sudden terrible fear swept over him. Would any of them live to see it?
“Shane.” His mother’s voice penetrated his terror. “Shane, yer da’s askin’ for ye.”
Shane jumped up and hurried to the bunk where his father lay, his burly blacksmith’s frame shrunken, perspiration dotting his waxen forehead.
“Shane.” Da reached out blindly. “Shane, me lad.”
“I’m here, Da.” Struggling to keep his voice steady, Shane clasped his father’s hand as tightly as he could. “I’m here.”
“You’re a good lad, Shane,” his father rasped around his swollen tongue. “Always…helped…me…”
Tears threatened to blind Shane, but he blinked them back furiously and swiped a grimy hand across his nose. He was ten years old now. He wouldn’t let Da see him cry!
He opened his mouth to speak, but all that emerged was a squeak. Da didn’t hear, for he was struggling to speak again.
“Look after them, son,” he begged. His voice, once a hearty boom, was no more than a papery whisper as he struggled against the demon fever. But his dark eyes blazed with passion, searing Shane’s soul. “Look after…yer ma. Look after…the family. Help them…when ye get…to…Amerikay. Keep…them…safe.”
“I will, Da,” Shane vowed fiercely around the strangling lump in his throat. “I promise I’ll look out for Ma and the little ones.”
“Love…ye, lad. Ye’re…me heart’s…pride…”
The tears he could hold back no longer coursed down Shane’s face as he watched his father’s eyes close for the last time.
And Shane MacDermott vowed he’d never—never—let anything harm another person he loved.